Avant Garde Empresario Turns M Cafe into an “Artists’ Playground” with their Holiday Trunkshow

When In Manila, or more specifically, when in Makati, you’d be hard-pressed not to notice the stunning piece of architecture that is The Ayala Museum.  Established in 1967, the gorgeous glass, steel, and concrete construction is a work of art in itself, has as its slogan “Re-collecting the past; re-presenting the future.”  The past is accurately recollected through six permanent exhibits on Philippine history and art.  As for the future…


Come and play!: Invitation to Empresario‘s Holiday Trunkshow, Artists’ Playground.


Enter Empresario, the innovative bi-annual trunkshow that features young up-and-comers in the fashion industry–the “future” in the Ayala Museum‘s tagline of “re-presenting the future.”  Combining PR with marketing, Empresario‘s mission is to promote talented Filipinos who might not have the resources to do PR for themselves (like me, whose business’ PR consists of a practically empty Facebook page and lots of word of mouth).  The twice yearly trunk shows are organized around a theme, and interested entrepreneurs can apply by visiting their website.


Queens of the fashion scene: Empresario’s Rachel Davis and Rosana Guidotti.


For their second 2011 trunkshow, dubbed Artists’ Playground, Empresario brought together six of the country’s avant garde new talents in the fashion scene and introduced them to the public in a trunkshow/exhibit/silent auction at The Ayala Museum‘s M Café.  When I got there, right on time for cocktails at seven, I was handed an unusually large press kit which, I discovered soon after accidentally putting it down on the floor too hard, held a bottle of complimentary wine (which, thankfully, did not break).  After discovering that there was something breakable inside my goody bag, I obviously started walking on eggshells the rest of the night, afraid that my klutzy self would either break the bottle of wine (which would be a definite waste as it looked quite good), knock it into one of the exhibits, or otherwise do something potentially damaging.


Trés Bonne!: Bonne‘s Bonsai Fojas wears many hats, and makes them all.  One of my favorites is her hand-beaded fascinator with its gorgeous peacock-feather accent.  Perfect for channeling the inner British Royal.


I stopped worrying about my wine bottle, however, when I saw the exhibits.  As someone admittedly addicted to wearing outrageous things on my head (my collection of Blair Waldorf-esque headbands says it all), I made a beeline for Bonne, the brainchild of milliner Bonsai Fojas.  Bonsai, who works as a Senior Copywriter for one of the Philippines’ ad agencies, handcrafts all of her exquisite, vintage-designed creations from turbans (not the sort you see Sikhs wearing, but the high-fashion variant common to glamour girls from the 1930s), to fascinators, to pillbox hats à la Jackie O, which means that all pieces are one of a kind.  After practically drooling over the merchandise, I quizzed Bonsai on her favorite era–the 1920s, but 1940s fashion is much more wearable–her advice for hat-wearers and those who think hats aren’t for everyone–She says it’s about how you feel, how you project yourself, and that if you’re uncomfortable, it won’t look right–and why she was drawn to hats in the first place–“They’re fun!  I suggest people wear them.”  I certainly wanted to, and while I couldn’t very well take any of the ones in the exhibit or the show home, Bonsai directed me to her website, where I could start bookmarking items for my Christmas wishlist.  (I’m currently eyeing her turbans, Hepburn-esque pillbox, and cloches…anyone want to be my secret Santa?)


Fit for Royalty: Jewelry designer Aziza Monteñedo‘s creations are crafted for the woman unafraid to make a statement.  Amongst these “Aziza women” is the Duchess herself, Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas.


After tearing my eyes away from Bonsai Fojas‘s tempting eye candy, I was immediately dazzled by Aziza Monteñedo‘s bold jewelry pieces.  Inspired by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, Aziza is not for the faint of heart or for those who play it safe.  In the designer’s own words, Aziza jewelry is for a classy woman who is not afraid to stand out.  Her collections are full of colorful, big, chunky jewelry that are calculated to catch eyes and turn heads, which makes it rather unsurprising that Aziza has been favored by rock star royalty: Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas owns a pair of Aziza earrings, which the designer christened the “Duchess” earrings in her honor.


Beyond icons: The designers behind Seven 107 Jose Llamas, Ria Atayde, and Martin Atayde — are out to prove the Philippines is more than just jeepneys and Philippine flags.


Chasing after the MYX camera crew I spotted at the event led me to the designers of Seven 107, a clothing company geared towards promoting awareness of the Philippine culture without relying on the clichéd images of the jeepney or Philippine flag.  As a result, all their designs are actually researched and studied–this was a first for me, as I’d never heard of a t-shirt brand researching its prints before.  The theme of their designs is”something unusual, with a tropical feel,” and range from actual tribal patterns (Did you know our tribal patterns are actually closer to Polynesian island prints rather than those of our Asian neighbors?) to photos of unique tourist spots (one of a little-known lighthouse was printed proudly on one of Seven 107‘s showcase shirts) to hand-painted designs featuring Philippine wildlife, some of the proceeds of which, Seven 107 President Jose Llamas explained, went to the Haribon foundation for the conservation of Philippine endangered species.  The uniting element is that all of Seven 107‘s clothes are designed to pique interest in the 7,107 Philippine islands for which their company is named, and to promote struggling artists who are called upon to interpret Seven 107 designs for themselves by hand-painting shirts which are then auctioned off.  Knowing a couple of “struggling artists” myself, I asked the designers how they could submit prospective t-shirt designs.  The process was relatively simple: either show up at Seven 107‘s regular hand-painting activities which happen in SM from November to February, or approach the salesladies at SM Kultura with the design and say “It’s for Seven 107.”  “But no jeepneys!” warned VP of Product Development and Design Head Martin Atayde, who pushed the hardest for ditching icons for more unique, Pinoy graphics.  It was one of the most interesting conversations I’d ever had on t-shirt design; the Llamas-Ataydes (They’re all related, did I mention?) definitely knew what they were talking about.  And, after seeing the cool stuff they do to their submitted designs, I’m tempted to send in some of my amateur photography and see if it’s up to snuff.


The new P.Y.T. — Pretty, hot, and thick: The goddesses behind Erzulie let their fashion speak for itself.


Next to the Seven 107 booth was that of Erzullie.  With the tagline “Fierce Curves/Fierce Plus Size Fashion,” the clothing line, named for the Voodoo goddess of love and seduction, catered to women ready to embrace their full-figured sensuality.  While I wasn’t able to chat with the designers–they were upstairs, seeing to their models–I did manage to snap a photo of those “fierce curves” in action.  Frankly, the clothes, and the swagger, spoke for themselves.


Socially responsible style: Ylla‘s Kathrine Buyoc promises chic shoes that are also eco-friendly and Philippine-made.


I’d been keeping an eye out for Ylla‘s designer, and when I saw the tall, model-esque Kathrine Buyoc demonstrating the comfort of her shoes for a few interested guests, I immediately rushed for the Ylla booth to pepper her with questions.  The shoes themselves had caught my eye earlier in the evening, particularly the pretty ballet flats which came in my favorite color, blue.  The poster/board next to the display explained that all of Ylla‘s shoes were made of indigenous material–something that I’d seen a lot of designers doing lately, so my first question to Kathrine was what made Ylla so different from the rest.  “Upcycled material,” she explained.  Aside from using indigenous fabric, Ylla shoes also use material that is old and would have been thrown out–what is called “overstocked threads”–partnering with Anthill Fabric, the same partner as popular upcycling brand Rags2Riches.  All Ylla shoes are handmade using upcycled fabric, indigenous materials, or a combination of both, but looking at them, all I could see were shoe-lust worthy pieces.  I braced myself for a shoe-lust worthy pricetag, but when I asked about cost, I was pleasantly surprised–Ylla‘s fashionable footwear range from 1,900 to 2,950 pesos, a far cry from usual shoe prices which range from 2,000 up.  “Do you plan to do more than shoes?” I blurted out, excitedly.  In fact, she was.  While Ylla had grown in leaps and bounds from an Atenean student project–perhaps that explained the predominance of blue?–there were plans to grow it further: “All out!” she explained, outlining her plans for going into bags, clothing, menswear, then explaining her intention to collaborate with bloggers to design shoes in their personal style.  I could barely restrain my giddiness: “Sign me up!”


Timely and timeless: Designer Agee Dee draws on her grandmother for inspiration with her Cece Smith line, but what she designs are not her grandmother’s clothes.


She’d been busy fixing her exhibit when I’d seen her last, so I’d assumed then it was not a good time to pester Agee Dee for an interview.  When I passed by her booth a second time, however, everything was in top shape and she was as relaxed as a designer could be on the night her premiere collection would be unveiled.  At first, I thought her name was Cece Smith, a mistake she explained many people make–Cece Smith is her grandmother, who was a talented seamstress.  Her mother sketched the clothes, her grandmother sewed them, and three generations later Agee continues the legacy with her label.  I have to admit this made me connect with her the most as my own label, Amelia et Nicole, is named after my grandmother (she’s the “Amelia,” me and my grandfather are the “Nicole”).  But whereas my label is admittedly an ethereal, slightly costume-y, vintage brand for women who love the classics, Cece Smith is geared “for the woman of the world,” she explains–versatile, limitless, everything in between…a sort of glamorous everywoman with a hip-hop sort of edge: Agee’s designs could easily grace VMA red carpets–form-fitting, sexy, yet still giving off a rather glamorous aura.  “There’ll be plenty of zebra in my next collection,” she said when I asked her what we could expect from her next.  That, and a swimwear collection that would embody the same aesthetic as her “Urban Opulence” collection.  Her biggest plans, however, have to do with her website, which will feature an interactive consumer experience allowing customers to customize their outfits: changing color, print, length, etcetera, because while Agee Dee designs for every woman, she knows that every woman is unique.


After getting to know all the designers, I made the rounds one more time, only to hear over the speakers that the fashion show was about to start.  Clueless, I tried to find a place to station myself so as to get good shots of the models.  At first, I chose the couches in front of the stairs, but then one of Empresario‘s events coordinators steered me towards the door, explaining that the fashion show would happen outside.  I managed to get a good spot in front of one of the doors and readied my camera to snap photos of my favorites:


Pazzy Navarro‘s subtly sexy ensemble of a black tube top and rich green pencil skirt with black polka-dot detail, paired with a sexy set of stilettos.  (Definitely something I’d wear to work, just to turn heads.)


Aziza’s chunky gold bracelet with stone details is designed to speak for itself.


Cece Smith by Agee Dee whips out this aqua-and-zebra-print bodycon number that’s definitely set to stun.


Ylla’s unconventional style pulls off the classic moccasin as a cool heel ready to be shown off.


Erzullie’s models are fierce, but their dresses are fiercer, daring to mold the curves that some try to hide, but that they flaunt with pride.


Bonne‘s simple pillbox oozes military chic.  Not pictured is a cascade of silver chains on the other side of the hat.  Also premiering with Bonne‘s show was the debut of “Hits and Misses,” a new track by Rivermaya‘s guitarist Jap Sergio.


Seven 107‘s tropical style kicks up the heat with a slouchy off-shoulder number with hand-painted detail.


Philippine Team striker Angel Guirado models for Seven 107.


The fashion show seemed to finish too quickly–I wanted to see more clothes to add to my wishlist and beg my relatives for–and just like that, Empresario‘s Holiday trunkshow was over.  The intimate affair was vastly different from the shows I’d covered for PFW, but I liked it–getting to meet the designers and having them explain their brands made the trunkshow both a social event and a, dare I say it, learning experience.  Going beyond fashion, Artists’ Playground definitely delivered on its promise of “getting to know the men and women behind their passions.”  I almost didn’t want to leave: I wanted to stick around, pick these designers brains some more, but my ride awaited: Cinderella had to head home before she turned into a pumpkin.  But I’d definitely enjoyed Empresario‘s Artists’ Playground Holiday Trunkshow.


So When In Manila, why not keep an eye out for these young, up-and-coming fashion entrepreneurs and their products.  These Empresario whiz kids offer products that are as avant-garde as the trunkshow that has helped launch them.  And, of course, if you think you can stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Aziza, Bonne, Seven 107, Erzulie, Pazzy Navarro, Ylla, and Cece Smith, why not try to apply to Empresario yourself and let these queens of PR launch you into potential style stardom?  (I’m definitely going to try.  Stay tuned for Empresario 2013: Amelia Et Nicole.  Maybe.)


Empresario: https://www.empresariomanila.com


Bonne: https://bonnebons.multiply.com


Seven 107: (Site under construction, but found at SM Kultura branches.)


Ylla: https://www.yllashoes.com


Aziza: https://www.azizacollection.com


Cece Smith by Agee Dee: https://www.cece-smith.com


Erzullie: https://erzullie.multiply.com OR https://www.facebook.com/erzullie.fiercecurves



Avant Garde Empresario Turns M Cafe into an “Artists’ Playground” with their Holiday Trunkshow 




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